Monday, April 24, 2006


The gift of life, and so much more

It’s National Organ Donation Week here in Canada. I had a post on the topic half written before I realized I was repeating myself nearly verbatim from last year. (Those of you who know me well are of course shocked and scandalized to think I would repeat a story I have told once or twice or thrice before.)

So, I’ll wait here a minute while you go read that post from last year, and then you come on back and we’ll talk some more. Go on, really – I just re-read it myself and it’s a pretty good post. It’s about my dad, and his liver transplant in 2001, when I was about five months pregnant with Tristan. And if you’ve got a little bit of extra time, read this wrenching story of a five-year-old girl in Illinois named Annika who has endured two liver transplants, and will probably need a third.

In case you’re in a hurry and you only pretended to click on the link, here’s the important bits.

  • In 2003, 250 people died in Canada while waiting for waiting for new organs.

  • In the United States, 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.

  • In 2003, just over 1,700 organ transplants were performed in Canada.

  • At the end of 2004, over 4,000 people were on an organ donation list in Canada.

  • All you have to do is sign an organ donor card (here’s the Canadian and American versions for you) and tell your family what you want. Yes, it can be that simple. If you want to do more, and you’re in the Ottawa area, join the living green ribbon campaign on Wednesday on Parliament Hill. I hope to be there.

    Last night, my folks invited us over for dinner. The boys had run off downstairs, and I asked my dad if I could talk about his transplant on my blog. We sat and talked for the better part of an hour about the chronology – was it 1995 or 1996 that he started getting really sick? – and the details. It seems like another lifetime, the bad times when my dad was sick.

    We talked about the false alarms. He had been on the list for a liver transplant for a year or so when the first call came. They waited for hours, my mother and father, having already been admitted to the hospital but then left to wait as the hours ticked by. They were told that the donor had hepatitis C, like my dad, but they had to wait to find out whether the liver would be too damaged by the disease to transplant. After hours of waiting and anticipation, they were told to go home. But wait! As my dad got dressed again and prepared to leave the hospital, they were stopped and told to wait yet again. They weren’t sure yet – maybe the liver was still good. For three more hours they waited alone in the hospital room before word finally reached them that the liver was not viable.

    The second time they got a call, they were told my dad was the back-up recipient and would receive the liver only if the intended recipient couldn’t make it in from Thunder Bay in time. This time, they didn’t even admit him to the hospital. The recipient made it on time, and my parents went home, again, to wait.

    We discussed last night, from the safe distance of four and a half years and 600 km, how the liver disease was horrible to endure, how the waiting and the not knowing were agonizing, but most of all how the hope was crushing. In his case, the fourth time was the charm. The fourth call came, and the liver was healthy, and the transplant was done. When they removed my dad's liver, they found it riddled with cancer. It had been a ticking time bomb of cancerous cells.

    Last night, after a reflective discussion about the days of my father’s sickness and transplant, I listened to Simon’s belly laugh as Papa Lou played with him. I watched my father’s eyes shine as he laughed right back at Simon’s antics. It was a moment, a perfect moment, the joy of my father and my son loving each other, and it was a gift. A gift from a stranger we will never know.

    Imagine if it were your father, your wife, your son or daughter, your friend. Imagine watching them waste away, knowing that a call could come at any moment to rescue them, with the grace of God and a surgical team, from death itself. And imagine how you would feel listening for a call that does not come.

    Discuss organ donation with your family. Sign a donor card. Give the gift of life.